MOE ad with Pink Floyd album similarity: Maybe inspired, but not copy

What does the Ministry of Education (MOE) of Singapore and Pink Floyd have in common? Their love for prisms it seems. An out-of-home ad by MOE which aimed to recruit teachers recently made headlines on AsiaOne for looking somewhat similar to the music album cover of rock band Pink Floyd. The ad in question carried a green background and had the word "change" in it, with the letter "A" replaced with a diagram of glass prism, with white light on one side and a spectrum one the other. The similarities sparked of a somewhat educational conversation on social media about the similarities (or lack there of).

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While copycat works of art is a serious issue in the ad world, industry players that Marketing spoke to seem to think that this incident is far from that. Aaron Koh, chief creative officer at GOVT, said that looking at the ad, it is obvious that the prism in MOE's ad is an inspiration, not a blatant copy and paste from Pink Floyd's album cover. "How the line can be drawn between inspired and copycat ads is to see where the source of the image is from," he said, adding that it is arguable that the concept came from the scientist who developed the prism diagram, rather than Pink Floyd.

Edwin Yeo, general manager of SPRG Singapore, echoed the views, saying that apart from the use of a prism, MOE's ad has no similarity to the Pink Floyd album cover. From an art perspective, the two pieces of work are very different in its executions. The graphic used is different, and MOE's use of the prism as an "A" in its headline is also not similar to the music album cover.

According to Yeo, copying an ad would be taking a concept and making only cosmetic changes. On the other hand, being inspired means coming up with ways to take a different spin on the original concept. "For example, if I'm inspired by Apple's Think Different campaign, I would think of an ad campaign embracing that mantra without ever using the same visuals or copy," he added.

Meanwhile, Yeo Ai Ling, managing director of advertising agency Wild, said the fine line between inspired and copycat art work goes back to the intention in which the work was created. For Yeo, the prism image used in MOE's ad ties in with its message clearly. Moreover, as a Pink Floyd fan herself, she did not immediately draw the association between the two art works. 

Wild's Yeo is also of the view that if brands have the right intention and a strong point of view about their work, they can justify their work and not have to shy away from comments, or in this case, let others defend them. "Let's be honest, all work is inspired from something. Take something as iconic as the lighting bolt in David Bowie's Aladdin Sane album. It has been used throughout modern culture as a trendjack, a tribute, a design inspiration," she added.

Earlier in April, we also saw two ads that were similar from foodpanda Singapore and KFC Malaysia. In a Facebook post, foodpanda Singapore featured riders clad in Deliveroo, Grab, McDonald's and Pizza Hut uniform standing together with a fellow foodpanda rider. The food delivery company said in the caption, "Riders assemble! Thank you for your selfless service and dedication. You are the heroes we need in these trying times. #SGunited".

The ad was strikingly similar to one by KFC Malaysia in March as italso voiced support for delivery riders for continuing to serve and satisfy consumers' cravings amid the lockdown. In a Facebook post, KFC also placed the drivers clad in foodpanda, Grab, McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut uniforms, and said the abang-abang delivery are "as strong as steel" and they salute the delivery riders who have consumers' backs.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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